There are two spoken, known philosophies in play right now for American boxing pay-per-view. One comes from Bob Arum of Top Rank, the long-running villain of promoters now that Don King has become something of a revered caricature and non-entity. Arum says that pay-per-view undercards simply don't matter much, and that at best, he will try to provide some matchups that have action potential.
The other comes from Richard Schaefer and Golden Boy Promotions, young veterans newer to the game than Arum, who for years did basically the exact same thing Arum has long done, until lately, when Schaefer has been outspoken in criticism of the undercards offered by Arum, Top Rank, and HBO.
While saying that major fights matter on pay-per-view undercards to give the paying audience more bang for its buck, Schaefer and Co. have delivered some enticing stuff, most notably a fight between Danny Garcia and Lucas Matthysse that diehard boxing fans looked forward to about as much as they did the September 14 Showtime pay-per-view headliner between Floyd Mayweather and Canelo Alvarez.
Mayweather-Canelo was going to sell its two million-plus no matter what the undercard was, which made the stance from Golden Boy and Showtime all the more admirable. While Garcia-Matthysse could have easily been its own Showtime Championship Boxing headliner -- and thus, another licensing fee and another live gate -- the fight was put onto a show almost as a bonus, even a gift to boxing fans.
The upcoming major pay-per-view events for Arum/Top Rank/HBO and Schaefer/Mayweather Promotions/Golden Boy/Showtime don't have any fights like Garcia-Matthysse, but the difference in philosophy is very clear. On April 12, Manny Pacquiao will headline in a rematch against Timothy Bradley for the WBO welterweight title on HBO pay-per-view. On May 3, Floyd Mayweather will defend the WBC welterweight title against Marcos Maidana and his WBA belt on Showtime pay-per-view.
The main events speak for themselves, and are what will sell the shows. Pacquiao-Bradley II is, on paper, the far more competitive and intriguing fight, but Mayweather-Maidana has the "it factor" of being a Mayweather bout, and Floyd is clearly and without any question the No. 1 pay-per-view draw in the sport now. Where once Floyd and Manny were going toe-to-toe in sales and revenues, Floyd blew past Pacquiao in 2013, following a pair of losses by Manny.
Mayweather sold about 850,000 pay-per-views last May against Robert Guerrero. Showtime argued for a while, but never released an official number, which is usually a sign that they weren't happy, and 850K was not a happy number. The 2.2 million pay-per-views sold for Mayweather-Canelo was second all-time to De La Hoya-Mayweather from 2007, and it blew away that fight in total revenue.
Meanwhile, Manny fought just once in 2013, doing poor numbers against Brandon Rios in November. That card, live from Macao, just didn't pique the public's interest, either because it came in the middle of a very busy pay-per-view season, or because Rios just wasn't seen as anything more than a "get-well" opponent. Maybe both. The show did about 475,000 buys, lower even than the initial reports that had it at about 500,000, making for Pacquiao's lowest HBO PPV sales since his second fight with Juan Manuel Marquez in 2008, before Manny became a true headline guy following his win over Oscar De La Hoya later that year. (Pacquiao fought David Diaz on pay-per-view between those fights, which was a Top Rank-produced event that had about 250,000 buys.)
But the main events are both good -- certainly good enough to be A-list pay-per-view main events. The difference, as is the point here, is in the way the undercards are structured.
Golden Boy has decided to go name-heavy, with Schaefer bragging about how expensive the show was to put together, and saying that this will be the most expensive pay-per-view undercard in history. But most of that money is being spent on Amir Khan and Adrien Broner, who are fighting in separate bouts. Yes, they bring name value, but how good are these fights that they're in?
Khan (28-3, 19 KO) is taking on Luis Collazo, which is a legitimate fight, and deserves credit as being a damn solid pay-per-view undercard feature. Collazo (35-5, 18 KO) is a welterweight contender, and this is Khan's first fight as an official 147-pound fighter. It's not easy on paper for Khan, and it's unlikely to be easy in the ring unless Khan has a great night. Collazo can fight, he's tricky, and he knocked out Victor Ortiz in two rounds on January 30, giving him the opportunity to do the same thing to Khan.
That's a good fight. No argument about that.
But then you have Broner (27-1, 22 KO) facing Carlos Molina (17-1-1, 7 KO), a mediocre lightweight who will facing the former three-division titleholder at 140 pounds. Broner has built his reputation mostly on trouncing guys on this level, as HBO allowed him to feast on the likes of Martin Rodriguez, Jason Litzau, and Eloy Perez. Against tougher opponents like Daniel Ponce De Leon, Paulie Malignaggi, and Marcos Maidana, Broner is 2-1, and there's a good argument that he could easily be 0-3.
Broner-Molina is a fight designed to get "AB" back on the right track. At 24, he's still a very young fighter with a lot of career ahead of him, and he's been groomed to be a post-Floyd superstar in the sport, a guy who can stir up controversy, carry pay-per-view events, and make big money for himself, his promoters, and his network.
The only value for fight fans in Broner-Molina is Broner's name value, though. He will win, he will win handily, and when he does, shouts of his being "back" will be stretching reality. Molina hasn't fought since he was manhandled by Khan back in December 2012. He'll probably be as game as he was in that fight, but Khan was far too skilled for him, and Broner will be, too.
The opening bout is a super middleweight matchup between J'Leon Love (17-0, 10 KO) and Marco Antonio Periban (20-1-1, 13 KO), set for 10 rounds. This is a fight that's a little harder to judge. Khan-Collazo has name value and is a solid, relevant matchup at 147 pounds. Broner-Molina is clearly just a bounce-back showcase for Broner at 140.
This fight is somewhere in between. On paper, it should be competitive, depending on what you think of Mayweather prospect Love, a 26-year-old Michigander who has earned mixed reviews for performances against Derrick Findley, Gabriel Rosado, Lajuan Simon, and Vladine Biosse. Periban is a decent super middleweight with some power, some skills, and he gave both Sakio Bika (L-MD-12) and Badou Jack (D-10) tough battles last year.
Are either of these guys serious contenders at 168? Like a lot of things in boxing, that depends on your perspective. Sure, they're title contenders, in that either of them can easily get a shot -- or in Periban's case, another shot -- at a world title with a win here. Either could easily get a shot with a loss, quite frankly. Boxing doesn't work like any other sport in this respect, and being "world champion" doesn't mean as much as it appears to a lot of the time.
With this fight, you don't have big name value, but both guys are familiar to Showtime viewers. You don't have true top standouts in the division, but Love could be one, and Periban has held his own against better opponents. As a matchup, it's pretty good, but not great. In short, there's really nothing wrong with this fight, but it's unlikely to turn any heads, either. For a pay-per-view opener in the modern age, no matter the promoter, that's as good as you can ask.
Mayweather-Maidana undercard grade (on paper): B-. Khan-Collazo is a good one, but Broner-Molina is such a mismatch, and such a familiar situation for the propped-up Cincinnati star, that it really detracts from the other two fights. Love-Periban neither hurts nor notably improves the card's standing, but it's good enough that it keeps Broner-Molina from dragging the quality down any further.
Pacquiao-Bradley II undercard
Well, you're not going to find much name value here, but each fight has a good chance of being competitive, for whatever that's worth.
The main undercard bout is a WBA junior welterweight matchup between titleholder Khabib Allakhverdiev (19-0, 9 KO) and former Mayweather Promotions prospect Jessie Vargas (23-0, 9 KO), who is in sort of a sink-or-swim position. Since jumping from Mayweather to Top Rank, Vargas' career hasn't really moved much. In four fights under Arum's banner, he's gone 4-0 against Aron Martinez, Vito Gasparyan, Wale Omotoso, and Ray Narh, all at welterweight.
For this fight, Vargas will have to make 140 pounds for the first time since December 2010. At 24, that could be a problem, or it may not be. Vargas' team must be confident that they can make the limit comfortably, but he hasn't even weighed in under 146 pounds since September 2011, when he weighed 142 against Josesito Lopez. Every fight since then, a full two-and-a-half years, has been fought with a welterweight limit, or even a couple of pounds higher.
If Vargas can make the weight alright, then it's a solid fight, but like Love-Periban, nothing that's going to get anyone excited on paper. Allakhverdiev is a pretty good fighter with no fan base and minimal TV exposure, while Vargas has earned the same mixed reviews as former #MoneyTeam compatriot Love on his climb up the ladder.
The undercard's best matchup is probably a lightweight bout between contender Ray Beltran (28-6-1, 17 KO) and former two-time super featherweight titlist Rocky Martinez (27-2-2, 16 KO). Both can generally be counted on for entertaining bouts, there's the Mexico-Puerto Rico rivalry in play, and each man needs the win to stay in the mix at 135 for the time being. Martinez is moving up from 130 after a one-sided loss to Mikey Garcia, while Beltran is coming off of a robbery draw against Ricky Burns last September.
This could be a very good fight, but there's also the chance it gets ugly. Both guys have sort of physical, awkward styles, and Beltran isn't afraid to get dirty inside. He'll use his head as much as anyone in the sport, which opens up the opportunity for cuts and a disappointing night. That said, it should probably be considered a fight with good action potential, and a point for the matchmakers and this card.
The PPV opener is more of a wild card matchup, pitting unbeaten 21-year-old Mexican prospect Jose Felix Jr (26-0-1, 21 KO) and 26-year-old Costa Rican Bryan Vasquez (32-1, 17 KO) in a 12-round bout for the interim WBA 130-pound title. Felix has been impressive thus far in his career, but this figures to be a step up in class, too. Vasquez does have a thin record in terms of quality wins, but before he was stopped in the eighth round by Takashi Uchiyama (the world's best super featherweight), he put up a pretty decent fight on the New Year's Eve show in Tokyo in 2012.
Pacquiao-Bradley II undercard grade (on paper): C. What this card lacks is a Khan-Collazo sort of fight. Yeah, Allakhverdiev-Vargas is relevant at 140, but what's the upside coming out of that? Khan or Collazo could be facing Floyd Mayweather. Who would Allakhverdiev or Vargas face next in an ideal world? Ruslan Provodnikov? Nothing against the idea of that fight, but it's not exactly a Mayweather event. Beltran-Martinez is a good matchup at 135, and a much better fight than Broner-Molina, but it still doesn't mean as much as the Khan-Collazo bout. And Felix-Vasquez might be the sleeper fight of both shows, or it could just be some fight between the sort of guys who generally get thrown onto Top Rank PPV undercards, because HBO doesn't want to buy their fights otherwise.
The value of name value
The Mayweather-Maidana card will have more people talking, which is, of course, the idea going into any card. Once you've paid, what happens doesn't really matter so much. They've got your money. It's about convincing you to pay ahead of time, and names like Amir Khan -- in a fight that can be rightly promoted as very dangerous for him -- and Adrien Broner are going to excite your general fight fan much more than Khabib Allakhverdiev and Ray Beltran. One of those names (Khan or Broner) alone would be worth more, perhaps, than the entire Top Rank undercard.
Mayweather-Maidana will almost surely sell better than Pacquiao-Bradley, but the difference could conceivably come down to the prelim fights this time, which is rare. With the additions of Khan and Broner, the Mayweather show has more brand name marketability than it would without them. A Top Rank-style undercard beneath Mayweather-Maidana would do nothing for that show, while Khan and Broner may entice some people to buy who might otherwise not be that interested. Floyd can underperform on pay-per-view without an interesting opponent, and it remains to be seen whether or not the general public thinks any more of a matchup with Maidana than they did a matchup with Robert Guerrero, which bombed, by Floyd's standards.
Pacquiao-Bradley II should sell a good bit more than Pacquiao-Rios did, and has a very good chance at outperforming their 2012 fight, which did well given the expectations and the fact that Bradley wasn't a star, but didn't sniff a million buys. But the undercard won't give it any boost whatsoever. There's nobody on the show that's going to convince anyone to buy it if they aren't flat-out sold on the main event.
If the question is whether or not big name undercards are necessarily better, which is the title of this and all, then that's a trickier question. It's entirely conceivable that the Top Rank show will have three well-matched, exciting fights. It's also possible that none of them are very good. Khan-Collazo could be a really good fight, or it could be dull. Broner-Molina is going to be a walkover. Love-Periban might be solid, might be boring, might be very good.
What tips the hand to Mayweather-Maidana and Showtime/Golden Boy/Mayweather, for me at least, is two-fold:
- Khan-Collazo is a pretty damn good fight that I'd have been happy with having as a regular Showtime headline bout.
- Love-Periban, the least important fight of the SHO undercard, is as significant and potentially as good on paper as any of the three fights on the HBO show.
Big name undercards aren't necessarily better, but in this case, Schaefer's philosophy beats Arum's. At least in the build-up stage, which is where the sales are made.